Xerox, staples, starving artists: An oral history of indie komiks

EXISTENTIAL BLABBER - Kara Ortiga (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2013 - 12:00am

Once upon a time, Mauro “Malang” Santos was making komiks. From the 1940s to the 1960s, he drew characters like Kosme the Cop and Chain-Gang Charlie for publications like the Chronicle and the Weekly Graphic.

For 25 years, Pol Medina’s Polgas and crew had a comfortable space in a national broadsheet. They humored Filipinos and made them think with his political satire, until a controversy with St. Scholastica’s College erupted. Apparently, the school didn’t find his brand of satire very funny. Pol Medina resigned.

When Larry Alcala did Slice of Life, he drew Filipinos in scenes from their daily lives. Audiences would look forward to his complicated one-panel drawings in the Weekend Magazine and later in STAR.

Komiks have been an integral part of Philippine art and journalism. Though komiks are predominantly an influence borrowed from the West, they have been adapted to tell Filipino stories and sensibilities for so long, the format has become very Pinoy. While we are unsure of the place of komiks in mainstream media today, it is the underground or indie komiks scene that is alive and kicking. There are comic conventions or pop-up markets with P50 zines for sale — zines made by hand, Xerox-copied, folded and stapled together, creations of pure hard work and passion.

The indie komiks scene is full of raw talent. An uncensored creativity fueled by pure passion for the art runs rampant. To know more about underground comics, we asked some comic artists themselves to talk about the industry, where the scene is today, why life as an artist can be difficult, and where you can get your hands on these precious zines.


Genesis: The beginning of Indie komiks

Jon Zamar: The indie scene I was introduced to was during the time Whilce Portacio came back to the Philippines and inspired a bunch of creators to create comics under one banner, Alamat Comics. That was the early 1990s.

Noel Pascual: With the decline of the old komiks industry in the early ‘90s, new local komiks creators started self-publishing at around 1993. Some notable early komiks were those produced by the Alamat Comics group and Culture Crash. By 2005, as more and more new indie creators started releasing works, the first Komikon was held at Bahay ng Alumni in UP Diliman.

Josel Nicolas: The Alamat guys: Budjette Tan (Trese), Gerry Alanguilan (Wasted, Elmer), David Hontiveros, Oliver Palumburitt and Carlo Vergara (Zsazsa Zaturnnah). They were the oldest group probably to sell locally made stuff outside of mainstream publishers. The second wave was the Culture Crash Comics guy, Mike David. It was honestly the most successful monthly-serialized comic to come out. They had articles on how to make independent comics, which was a great inspiration to me, because being someone from Batangas, there isn’t really any komik scene there at all.

Robert Magnuson: Gosh, this is a question for Gerry Alanguilan. I recall Arnold Arre’s Mythology Class being the first local indie book that caught my attention. This was some time in the ‘90s, I think. The Alamat Group showed up and began releasing books by various talents. They were testing the waters for everyone who felt the desire to see their comics reach a wider audience. Then Culture Crash came and the quality of their publication raised the bar. And we shouldn’t forget that we also had very talented newspaper comic strip creators who were already doing terrific work at the time.


Indie vs. Mainstream

Noel Pascual: If by mainstream here, we’re referring to foreign comics companies such as Marvel or DC, there are indeed a lot of differences as far as the range in output is concerned.  There’s a greater variety in the local crop when it comes to genres and themes. This is due to the varied influences of the local komikeros. Some are inspired by their favorite manga, some are inspired by Western indies, and some are inspired by Filipino myths and folktales.

Jon Zamar: Availability. Content. Most of the indies can only be found in komiks events and comic specialty shops. Most of them are badly edited and uncensored but you can feel the creator’s passion oozing from every page, sometimes literally. As it is badly reproduced, that toner from the cheap photocopier they used can stain your hand.

Josel Nicolas: The difference is in the indie comic scene you make little to no money, and in the mainstream comic scene you make a bit more than just a little. It’s a very slim line. The mainstream will have more of a reach, of course, but mostly you slog it out in the same conventions the indies do. Because of the absence of a big studio that consistently produces comics, I think that the indie comic scene and the mainstream comic scene are one and the same now.

Rob Cham: The stories (of indie comics) are told from a unique Filipino perspective and, well, the creators are what sets the scene apart. You’ll find amazing stories here that you would never find anywhere else, and I think that’s pretty amazing.


Indie komiks today

Noel Pascual: Still in the process of growth. Local komiks are nowhere near as ubiquitous as they once were in the ‘80s when they were sold at every corner newsstand. However, the number of visitors in each komikon continues to grow. Also, bookstores have started selling local komiks.

Robert Magnuson: I think it is significant to mention that the local Komikon events have helped bring many of these strands together, providing a place where comic book passionate individuals can meet and form bonds. About 10 years ago, I honestly thought the local comics (industry) was breathing its last. What we have now is something I could not foresee back then. The local komiks scene is fueled by individuals who have day jobs and make comics on the side out of sheer love for the medium. It’s fueled by students who sneak a bit of comic work in between their homework. This industry survives because of the synergy that exists between the creators, event organizers, dedicated comic shop owners, and most of all an enthusiastic fan base who see great worth in locally produced stories.

Rob Cham: Every convention you’ll see different creators just selling their latest venture into making comics. It’s a lot of people just trying to get their work out there whether it be through small conventions, consignments at the local comics store, or even through their own distribution. Eventually, they may get picked up and distributed by a publishing house, but there are only so many success stories compared to the sheer volume of independent comics being made so you have to really go out of your way to possibly find what comics are out there, be it good or bad. It survives, in that people just want to make good comics.


The search: Where to get them

Jon Zamar: Available at all Komikon events. These are comic book conventions held twice a year, one in the summer and one in the late quarter. There are also provincial Komiks conventions. There are events held in places like Baguio, Bicol, Cebu, San Pablo, and Iloilo.

Robert Magnuson: These (Komikon) events happen in April and November. They have a website that tells you the exact date. The next one is on Nov. 16.

Jon Zamar: There’s also Indieket, which is a great indie tiangge done usually in the middle of the year.

Noel Pascual: A newer event tomorrow, Aug. 10, at Bayanihan Center in Pasig (by the organizers of Komikon) is called Indieket. Up and coming indie komiks creators and works are showcased. They are also available in stores such as Filbars, Comic Odyssey, Planet X, Bookay-Ukay in Maginhawa Street, and online stores such as Comicxhub.

Mervin: If you really want to get a hold of these precious things, I suggest you reach out to their artists on Facebook. They would be willing to send the items via express mail, or if you are near, you can probably even meet up in person. Try visiting these pages as well:

• http://www.facebook.com/100AnK

• http://www.facebook.com/groups/filipinokomiksreaders/

• http://www.facebook.com/komikon.org

Josel Nicolas: People can e-mail me at ajora_metalanger@yahoo.com or josel@komikasi.com. There is a new rule by which long-time sellers who’ve sold at over a certain number of Komikons must graduate. I think this is a good way to push old fogies like me out of their comfort zones and let the new guys have a shot to sell. I have run out of printed zines and am considering putting up everything on the web for free.


Meet the geeks

We asked the artists to come up with one-minute self-portraits. They gladly obliged.

Noel Pascual is a writer, researcher and screenwriter. He is one half of the duo behind Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents (artist is AJ Bernardo). It’s a series of horror-comedy adventures of a group of call center agents who regularly experience run-ins with the mysterious and the supernatural. There are three issues of the comic at P75 each.

Josel Nicolas has been making comics since 2006. He used to have a monthly comic strip in K-Zone called, Doc Brick: Scientist + Problem Solver. His comic book series Windmills is an autobiographical comic that portrays the artist as a bear, and several friends and family members as other anthropomorphic animals. He notes that the story of the comic is quite personal. The prices and length of his comics per issue has increased: Windmills 1 was P30, while Windmills V is P100.

Robert Magnuson is a children’s book author and illustrator. He has won the National Children’s Book Award for being one of the Best Reads for 2012. He currently works as the head of Creative Communications at OMF Literature Incorporated. His comic Kuting Magiting is told from the perspective of a jealous pet named Good Morning Dog, envious of a kitten that his master brings home one day. Until he discovers that the kitten has superpowers. The comic was sold out within a month or two, at a price of P100. It will be going back to press for another run this month.

Jon Zamar is a freelance art director and production manager for comic books. His work Digmaang Salinlahi is a sword and sorcery book that chronicles a long-running war in the mystic land of Kahimanawari, told from the perspective of a young prince warrior. He is selling an omnibus of Digmaang Salinlahi for P650. It’s in hardcover format and clocks in at 388 pages.

Mervin Malonzo is a freelance designer. He worked as new media  creative head for TV5 for two years before deciding he wanted to finish his comic. His comic Tabi Po chronicles the continuing biography of Elias and his odyssey to discover his origin and destiny. It is a bloody, violent, sexy and provoking comic that rebuilds the Philippine aswang mythology. These are available online for free at www.tabi-po.com. That’s why he’s poor, he says.

Rob Cham has illustrated for different brands and publications. He also contributes to Pepper.ph as their resident illustrator. His comic strips are mostly autobiographical. Stories and 01 are sold for P50 each. The Amazing Topless Head is free. His new project is called Hipsters. Go figure what that one is about.

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